TicketManager | Tesla’s Chinese Rival Arrives in the U.S. through Soccer Partnership

Within a week of President Joe Biden’s declaration that the U.S. would quadruple tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles to more than 100 percent beginning August 1, the world’s second largest EV manufacturer—China’s BYD—announced it would arrive stateside on June 20.

No, the company does not have immediate plans to export vehicles for sale in the U.S. Rather its brand and vehicle displays will appear at major sports stadiums across the country as part of BYD becoming a regional sponsor of the quadrennial CONMEBOL Copa America international soccer tournament. With the sponsorship revealed exactly one month before the first match, additional activation details were light, but BYD promised “engaging fan activities… enhancing the spectator experience both on site and globally.”

The 2024 event’s unique structure—a tournament primarily played among South American countries but taking place at 14 U.S. venues—means BYD can target potential buyers for its vehicles across its export markets in Latin America while also building awareness among U.S. soccer fans.

Just prior to unveiling the sponsorship, the automaker announced it would begin selling a plug-in hybrid pickup truck in Mexico in addition to its existing models already available there and in other countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Many auto industry experts expect BYD—which sells its Dolphin Mini model for about $21,000 in Mexico, less than half the price of the most inexpensive Tesla—to eventually sell EVs in the U.S., either by using loopholes in the current regulations (such as manufacturing vehicles for U.S. sale outside of China) or simply offering vehicles at such a low price point that even a tax that doubles the cost would keep its stickers below what U.S. and European competitors can sell their vehicles for.

Copa America marks BYD’s second major continental soccer partnership this year. January, it became the official e-mobility partner of the monthlong UEFA Euro 2024 tournament that kicks off in Germany six days prior to the U.S. event. In addition to on-site presence at the European Championships’ 10 sites, BYD will host “hundreds of events in more than 230 BYD stores across 19 European countries,” according to a UEFA press release.

The question among sports marketers will be whether BYD’s deals will lead to more sponsorship activity among EV or NEV (new energy vehicle) manufacturers. The potential certainly exists outside the U.S., especially in competitive European markets and within China, where traditional automakers from Japan, Germany and the U.S. are locked in battle with Tesla and domestic manufacturers such as BYD, Geely and SAIC.

Back home, the struggles of EV manufacturers do not portend much if any sponsorship spending in the near future. In the first quarter of 2024, 269,000 EVs were sold in the U.S., according to Kelley Blue Book. That was an increase of just 2.6 percent from a year earlier. At the same time, total sales of cars and light trucks grew more than five percent to 3.8 million vehicles.

Also in the first three months of the year, Ford’s EV division announced a loss of $1.32 billion, or $132,000 for each of the 10,000 vehicles it sold. Both Ford and GM have slowed EV production and delayed the introduction of new models. Additionally, over the last year Tesla has cut prices several times, reducing the sticker on some models by more than 20 percent.